One of the most interesting prospects projected in the late-first round and early-second round in last year's draft was Vanderbilt's Jeffery Taylor, and when the Bobcats selected him with the first pick of the second round, I was pretty happy to get to watch him. Taylor thrived as a shooter at Vandy, and became much more consistent in his senior season. In addition, Taylor could rebound well for his position and was a capable defender at the college level. This was perfect because the Bobcats needed shooting, rebounding, and defensive potential pretty badly, especially off of the bench.
Still, there were reasons Taylor was projected to go as late as he was, and why he was likely going to be more valuable as a rotation player than as a starter. First off, Taylor's 6'6" wingspan is certainly not great for a 6'7" forward, limiting his defensive potential as an NBA player. Additionally, he was not regarded as a strong ballhandler, which also limited how he could be used within an offensive scheme as far as how much he would be able to effectively protect the ball or create off the dribble. Draft Express noted that his offensive skill set is still somewhat raw (though that could actually imply that he has room to develop, despite being 23 years old) and that he tends to be too passive at times, but that could also be a lack of confidence in his own ability to attack the basket. Three quarters of the way through his rookie season we're seeing the good and bad of Taylor's game at the NBA level.
The only bad part of going to a team like the Bobcats with a glut of minutes available as a player who is still developing is that they may be asked to take on a role that is too much, too soon. In the preseason, Taylor struggled to see the court, and when he did, he mostly struggled. However, we saw Mike Dunlap play to his strengths early in the season as a set shooter, and it paid off as Taylor shot 44.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from distance while averaging 24.8 minutes in November. Taylor also started 13 of 14 games that month with Gerald Henderson out with a sprained left foot and the team rolled to a 7-7 start in that stretch.
However, as the season progressed and Dunlap tinkers with Taylor's minutes, we've seen his consistency come and go:
December (16 games): FG: 33.7%; 3pt: 27.3%; 22.4 mpg
January (14 games): 47.9%; 37.1%; 17.6 mpg
February (12 games): 50.8%; 26.9%; 19.5 mpg
March (7 games): 34.5%; 41.7%; 13.9 mpg
Officially, we don't know if Taylor's shooting struggles in December were a result of having his minutes reduced slightly as Dunlap continued to work out a rotation, if Dunlap continued to re-work his rotation because of his struggles, or if teams simply found a way to take him out of the game. It's likely they were an adjustment to the return of Henderson from his aforementioned injury. Still, Taylor's numbers this season are in-line with his numbers at Vandy, and both his TS% and eFG are hovering around average, so he has still been an efficient shooter over the course of the season.
As I said above, Taylor isn't likely a career starter, but has been asked to start twenty-eight games to date this season, and has been mostly effective bench player with minutes of around 17-20 mpg. Any more than that and it seems that means pitting him against the other team's starting small forward too much, and less than that it seems that he struggles to get in rhythm or develop a feel for the game. In short, keep his minutes consistent and Taylor seems to keep his production consistent. Or he's regressing, but we have twenty-four games to see if that's the case, but so far it seems as if he just needs his minutes to remain consistent.
True to pre-draft scouting reports, Taylor has also been more effective working within the flow of the offense and not trying to create for himself. Given the nature of the guards on the roster, he should not have to try to do that too much anyway. In fact, you can see this in the games and in the stats. Of Taylor's shots, 51 percent have been jumpers and a whopping 90 percent of them have been assisted. His next most common shot has been attempts at the rim, which account for 49 percent of his total shots, and he is assisted on 66 percent of those as well. Taylor rarely tries to create plays in the halfcourt: Less than 10 percent of his shots come on isolation or as a pick and roll ballhandler. And when he tries in isolation, the normally turnover-averse Taylor becomes much more prone to gifting the rock to the opponent.
Perhaps as a result of being asked to stay out on the perimeter to knock down open shots, Taylor's rebounding production has been much less than what it was at Vanderbilt. A career 5.9 per game rebounder in college, Taylor has only averaged 1.9 per game with the Bobcats and still just 3.3 per 36 minutes. The fact that he's only grabbed 5.2% of available rebounds is somewhat concerning too, but there is hope that could improve with more NBA experience since he was a decent rebounder for his position in college.
How about defensively? The answer may surprise you.
The first thing we have to remember is that the Bobcats are not a good defensive team-- 28th in opponent points per game and 29th in Defensive Rating. The second thing that we have to remember is that things like Defensive Rating are affected by team defense, even with an individual player's Defensive Rating. If you don't remember those things you may think that Taylor has been pretty atrocious with a Def. Rating of 114 and a Defensive Win Shares total of -0.1, but that doesn't tell the whole story. With Taylor on the court, the Bobcats are a net -9 points per 100 possessions - which is pretty bad - but that number grows to -12.2 with Taylor on the bench. Has Taylor been a great defender? No, obviously, but he's not exactly surrounded by many players you might accuse of being "defensive minded". The point is that despite Taylor's small wingspan for his size he's still made a small positive impact on the defense.
We're now 63 games into Taylor's career and we're seeing that, for better and for worse, he's been just as advertised. We know that he's a capable shooter off of the bench that is better off playing off of the ball and that we probably shouldn't expect him to ever be more than an average defender. While Taylor may be an older, more finished product at the age of 23, he's on a team-friendly non-guaranteed contract that makes these things alright. Taylor's ability to positively or negatively impact the Bobcats will be affected by the consistency of the minutes he receives and how he is used when he does receive them. While there are many reasons he wasn't drafted higher, those are many of the same reasons he was regarded as a good value for his draft slot.
Jeff Taylor Fun Facts:
* Taylor wears number 44, which was also my number when I played basketball.
* Taylor is also my middle name, but we are not brothers.
* His career high of 16 points is also the total number of letters in my name, if you breakdown the number 44 as 4 times 4, you get 16. Mindblown? Mindblown.
* He was born in Sweden, went to high school in New Mexico, and attended college in Tennessee. I'm guessing he knows a good travel agent. (Ed. Do people even use travel agents anymore? - Ben)